American Crystal, Workers Resume Talks

Nearly three months after American Crystal Sugar Company locked 1,300 employees out of their jobs, the Moorhead-based co-op is resuming talks with the workers' union.

American Crystal Sugar Company resumed talks with its union Monday, according to a letter posted on the company's Web site.

The Moorhead-based farmers co-op locked out 1,300 union workers starting August 1 because they rejected a new labor contract offer. The workers were employed at the co-op's sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. The factories have been running with replacement workers since.

The new five-year contract-meant to replace a seven-year agreement between the union and the co-op that expired on August 1-would have given union workers a 4 percent raise in the first year, 3 percent in the second year, and 2 percent in each of the next three years.

But the workers didn't like that the contract would bring them into the company health plan for non-union employees-a move that would more than double out-of-pocket health care costs, the union claimed. Union representatives also claimed that American Crystal Sugar's new contract proposal would erode seniority rights and allow the company to give union jobs to outside firms on a contract basis.

The lockout is reported to be one of the largest labor stoppages in Minnesota in recent years.

After the workers were locked out, the union filed four complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that American Crystal failed to negotiate in good faith prior to the lockout and violated the National Labor Relations Act. The NLRB dismissed all four complaints last month.

In the letter addressed to the company's employees, American Crystal Vice President Brian Ingulsrud said stakes for this meeting are high and says American Crystal's goal is to get everyone back to work.

American Crystal Sugar is the largest sugar beet producer in the United States. Its 2010 revenue totaled $1.2 billion.